Welcome to the blog of Roya Dedeaux, Marriage and Family Therapist. You are reading one of the posts in my “Shrinking the Stigma” series – where I will answer questions people have about the logistics and process of therapy. Because of its confidential nature, we tend to shroud the therapy process in so much mystery! My blog attempts to dispel that mystery and make it easier for you to use it as the wonderful resource it can be. Check out the other blog posts at royadedeaux.com
Is finding a therapist harder for unschoolers?
Yes, it is. I wish it wasn’t. Unschooling is such a radically different way of thinking than the mainstream view of parenting and education, and bumps up against so many preconceived notions, messages, and fears. Remember when you were first learning about unschooling? You had doubts. You might still have doubts. Therapists are not necessarily child development or education specialists. They have had a variety of psychology classes, most of which had to take a child or human development class at some point (but that some point could have been decades earlier).
Another issue is that the behavioral field of sciences infiltrates therapy quite a bit -- those are the folks who are big on rewards and punishments in order to shape behavior. It is the exact opposite of what most unschoolers are doing within their families. That can pose a big barrier in the practice of therapy, and go against much of your family’s philosophy.
Your children might not be as articulate about the benefits of unschooling as you are. To them, their life feels like endless playing, or “doing nothing,” even. To many therapists, this sounds like neglect.
Another barrier, sadly, is that it can be exhausting to have to educate yet another person about your educational and life choices. Even if your therapist is open-minded and eager to learn, it does seem to detract a little from the purpose of therapy when you spend valuable session time teaching your therapist.
Some therapists, despite seeming open minded, cannot seem to get past the fact that your family isn’t following mainstream education methods. I have heard so many stories of families who went to therapy for help dealing with anxiety, depression, relationships, or trauma - and instead of dealing with the actual issue, they were told that the problem was that their children were not in school. This, as we know as unschoolers, is not usually the issue -- and very often is one of the reasons the problem is not even worse.
Some therapists are just lacking in knowledge and value this viewpoint once they hear about it, others are actually, actively opposed to the idea of unschooling even when they learn more about it. I have, sadly, also heard too many stories of therapists making snap judgments about unschoolers and calling Child Protective Services. Some uneducated therapists honestly believe that keeping a kid out of public school is child abuse.
You have options.
You can disclose that you homeschool, but leave out the unschooling part. If you use a charter school, you can focus on that. The upside - it’s more and more common, so more and more therapists understand that an alternative method is a viable option. The downside is that you are not being entirely truthful with your therapist, and that sort of trust barrier between you and your therapist will only impede the therapeutic process.
You can tell them the whole truth, provide them with resources and education. You can feel it out and see how open minded they seem before delving in, and approach with caution. You can refer them to an unschooling-friendly therapist for a consultation (a service I am happy to provide).
You can see an unschooling-friendly therapist to begin with! The best case scenario is to find a therapist who was either unschooled themselves, or unschools their own children. The benefits of that are, of course, that you do not need to educate them, explain or justify your decisions, and you can move quickly past those questions and onto the real reasons you are seeking therapy. You can find a therapist who understands the unique lifestyle of unschooling, understands the importance of park days (or what they even are), has been to conferences, has read the same websites you have, who understands not to ask your children about their grade level or what their favorite subject is in school. You can find a therapist who won’t automatically assume that playing 4 hours of Minecraft is a problem. You can find a therapist who can meet your family where you are at, and actually help.